"Ode to A Nightingale" is a poem in which Keats uses detailed description to contrast natural beauty and reality, life and death. In the opening verse, the writer becomes captivated by the nightingale's peaceful song. Throughout, the song becomes a powerful spell that transcends the mortal world of Keats. Interwoven throughout the poem are his thoughts about death. It is important to note that Keats' father & mother died when he was young and his brother had recently died of tuberculosis, which probably accounts for this focus.
In the first stanza, Keats' mood is low and depressed but the nightingale's song creates a state of euphoria in him that allows him to escape reality. He is not envious of the bird's happy "lot" but is comforted by the nightingale's singing which lifts him from his unhappy state. Unencumbered by thoughts of "the weariness, the fever, and the fret," mentioned in stanza three, Keats is impressed by the nightingale's ability to sing happily and easily "in full throated ease" (L 10).
The second stanza weaves the visual fiber of the poem around the natural beauty of the nightingale's song. Keats yearns for "a draught of vintage (wine) ...the country green, / Dance and Provencal song, and sun burnt mirth,/ ... the warm South" (L 11-15). This can be taken literally, or, figuratively to mean that he would like to enjoy the comforting things in the world. He wishes to "drink, and leave the world unseen" (L 19), thus avoiding the negative aspects of reality. At this point, he would rather "with thee fade away into the forest dim" (L 20), where he doesn't have to think and, in fact, live. This may reflect a desire to die or the desire to be done with death since it has been a strong force in Keats' life. This thinking is substantiated by the next and most reality based section of the poem.
"Fade far away, dissolve, and forget" (L 21), demonstrates the poet's desire to escape the reality that "thou amongst the leaves hast never known" (L 22). The nightingale never has to face the aging process and loss of loved ones. Here, Keats explains in detail the facets of reality that emotionally distress him:
The weariness, the fever, and the fret
Here, where men sit and hear each other groan;
where palsy shakes a few, sad, last gray hairs,
where youth grows pale, and spectre thin, and dies; (L 23-26)
Fortunately, it seems that the drug-like effect of the nightingale's song relieves him of these sorrows.
Feeling that he can recreate the effect of the nightingale's song, the poet now views his poetic imagination as having a similar effect as the "vintage wine" mentioned in stanza two. However, his "dull brain perplexes and retards" (L 34) while "Already with thee!" (L 35) being with the nightingale he is already in a place where he is happy. He realizes that the nightingale's song is actually more powerful than his own imagination and it requires less effort on his part to continue listening to the...